“Well…at least we know the music”
In one of the first performances to be hosted by the Lowry since the latest easing of restrictions, Northern Ballet have bounded onto stage with a revival of Dangerous Liaisons, their stunningly choreographed interpretation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ novel, set seamlessly to the familiar strings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia.
With little spoken word to guide us on our way, the overheard audience comment above reflects the biggest challenge in this adaptation – keeping up with this complex tale of two 18th century French aristocrats who goad each other into a web of seductions, leaving a trail of broken hearts in their wake.
When the Viscomte de Valmont develops genuine feelings for one of his conquests, the pious Madame de Tourvel, this game of boredom descends into jealousy and bloodshed as his devious pen-pal, the Marquise de Merteuil enacts a doomed plan of revenge.
Events opens with one of the most intriguing sequences I’ve seen – no music, just an extract of one our protaganists’ infamous letters, whilst our cast spins and weaves onstage.
This, combined with the beautifully rendered costumes and minimalist set and lighting, sets the tone for absolute focus on the dancers, and a real sense of place and time.
Joseph Taylor dances the role of Valmont with all the pomp and swagger required to sell the character, successfully taking us on his journey from arrogant libertine through to struggling with betrayal and true love.
His duets with Antoinette Brooks-Daw, a sublime Madame de Tourvel, are a highlight, as she reluctantly gives in to his amorous coaxing. At one point, as he lifts her into the air and, as her initial kicking in protest slows to a half-hearted flicker, we have a captivating sequence of two dancers in complete sync.
Abigail Prudames brings all of the controlled poise of the Marquise; completely convincing as the master manipulator; jealously reacting to Valmont’s shenanigans. At one point she is literally hopping mad at his latest letter and it’s a palpable moment of rage.
It’s a shame that the scheming between the pair feels lost amongst his seductions. It pushes her somewhat into the background and, when she’s faced with the disastrous consequences of her revenge, it’s beautifully wrought but feels a bit ‘too little, too late’ in terms of character development.
Rachael Gillespie delivers heaps of youthful energy to the show as Cecile, a naïve conquest of the Viscomte. Covering huge amounts of stage with grand jetés and pirouettes brings this home, and makes her shame and loss of innocence when Valmont apparently blackmails her into his arms more compelling, as she’s left a tragic, sobbing heap on the floor once he’s finished with her.
Finally mention must be made to Helen Bogatch as Madame de Volanges, Cecile’s overbearing mother. Her attempts to ingratiate her ingénue with the pair (ignorant of the cost of doing so) bring some much-needed moments of levity to the drama.
Whilst the overarching storyline isn’t always easy to follow – particularly when there are multiple vignettes of dancing at once; the audience almost going cross-eyed trying to keep track of them – the show is a powerful reminder of just what a loss David Nixon, who recently announced his stepping down as Artistic Director after 20 years, will be to the company.
When they have the right opportunity within his choreography, each dancer gives us their very best, leaving Dangerous Liaisons a very welcome return for this renowned ensemble.
Playing until 5th June at The Lowry before moving on to London Sadler’s Wells from 8th – 10th June. https://northernballet.com/dangerous-liaisons
Reviewed by: Lou Steggals
Reviewed: 1st June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★
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